A SPANISH lawyer has described the outcome of a Co Antrim family’s medical negligence challenge against health authorities as «unprecedented».
Natalia Astigarraga also commended the courage of Bronagh Boyle in pursuing the action in the aftermath of her husband’s tragic death.
«I remember meeting them in 2015 and they were still in shock about what had happened. They had to face not only the loss of a father and husband but were issuing proceedings in a foreign country. They were uncertain about how things could go,» she said.
«The hearing itself three years later was a difficult time because they were present but didn’t understand what was happening as it was all in Spanish.»
Ms Astigarraga said there were many complexities in the protracted legal battle.
«It is very, very difficult in Spain from the judicial perspective to prove liability as there is a protection given to the national health service,» she said.
«The level of evidence required is very strict, much more than in England.
«In Spain, we have five jurisdictions: criminal, civil, administrative, social and one concerning the army.
«We took an administrative proceedings case, in which the defendant is a public body. Our case was against the health service of the community of Valencia.»
A verdict was expected within a month of the hearing in April 2018. However, it took another two years for the outcome to be delivered.
The «key witness» was a paramedic who confirmed that Ronan Boyle’s Electrocardiogram (ECG) results had been incorrectly read by a doctor – who claimed there was nothing wrong when he had in fact suffered a heart attack.
«He revealed the chaotic situation that the victim was exposed to,» Ms Astigarraga said.
«The verdict showed medical negligence was attributed to the complete medical service Ronan received. It was attributed to one doctor in particular but in general the liability attribution was to the service.
«We argued in our case that it was not just one mistake but the whole medical treatment. The conclusion of the magistrate was the mistake that really affected the outcome was the incorrect reading of the ECG. The magistrate noted this led to the wrong ambulance being called initially.
«This is a very significant verdict in terms of the admission of liability in this judgment. It is unprecedented.»
Belfast lawyer Diane Rowan from the firm DWF also represented the family in Northern Ireland. The case cost more than £100,000, which was covered by home insurance.
Ms Rowan also praised Mrs Boyle’s perseverance in taking on a system.
«It is extremely difficult to bring a claim against the health system in Spain and there are many challenges along the way,» she said.
«In Bronagh’s case liability was denied from the outset and it was problematic to obtain the documents we needed. There was no scope for negotiation, the process itself was full of legal complexities and on top of that we had to deal with the language barrier.
“However, Bronagh persisted when many people would have given up and we are delighted at the outcome achieved – perseverance really does pay off.
«DWF would advise anyone finding themselves in a similar position not to be put off by what may appear to be a daunting process.
«Bronagh was prepared to take as long as was needed to see the case through and it is credit to her and her family that they have achieved this result.”
The final compensation settlement is still being determined.